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Biden, Johnson talk, but did they discuss US-UK trade deal? | Brexit News

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UK says leaders discussed ‘benefits of a potential free-trade deal’, but US statement makes no mention of one.

U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson and U.S. President Joseph Biden struck different tones on the prospects of a trade deal between their respective countries, as Johnson became the first European leader to receive a phone call since Biden’s inauguration.

The U.K. statement on the call, which covered issues such as strengthening bilateral ties, collective defense and fighting climate change, also mentioned discussions of “the benefits of a potential free-trade deal between our two countries.” A statement released by the White House didn’t mention a discussion of trade.

Reaching a new trade accord with the U.S. now that the U.K. has exited the European Union is a top priority for Johnson, who’s looking to re-shape Britain’s global relations and show the benefits of having a trade policy independent from the EU. The U.S. is already the U.K.’s largest single-country trading partner, with trade between the two worth 221 billion pounds ($302 billion) in 2019, according to data from the British government.

A narrow time window is closing for the quick resolution of a trade accord: Biden needs the Senate to confirm Katherine Tai, his pick to be U.S. Trade Representative, and also faces the expiration of fast-track trade negotiating power delegated to the president by Congress. That ability, known as Trade Promotion Authority, expires July 1, and Biden would need to be close enough to a deal to notify Congress by April 1.

The prospect of a trade pact with the U.S. has been politically contentious in Britain, over concerns such as the U.K. opening its markets to U.S. agricultural products which may be made to lower animal-welfare standards. Outgoing U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said in December that access for American farmers would be an important part of any deal.

A trade accord with the U.S. may also bring limited benefits to Johnson’s Britain. The U.K. government’s own impact assessment of a deal said it would boost long-term GDP by 0.16%, provided there was a full liberalization of tariffs and a 50% reduction in non-tariff measures. Leaving the EU with a thin trade deal — as Johnson agreed on Dec. 24 — would be expected to reduce long-run GDP growth by 4%, according to the Office for Budget Responsibility.

The U.K.’s Department for International Trade said talks with the U.S. are at an “advanced stage” and they are on track for a “comprehensive agreement.”

“Continued technical discussions have taken place between officials to ensure that both sides are in a good position to move forwards as the new administration begins its work,” the DIT said in a statement.

Trade issues aside, Biden pledged to work closely with Johnson as the U.K. hosts both the G-7 and the United Nations Climate Change conference this year, according to a statement from the White House.

Johnson “warmly welcomed” Biden’s decision to have the U.S. rejoin the Paris Agreement on reducing greenhouse emissions, abandoned by President Donald Trump. He also praised Biden for renewing U.S. support for the World Health Organization and the Covax program to support the equitable distribution of Covid-19 vaccines.

The two leaders also expressed their support for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and for shared values to promote human rights, according to the U.K. statement.



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Voters go to the polls in El Salvador | Elections News

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Opinion polls ahead of Sunday’s vote show strong support for President Nayib Bukele’s Nuevas Ideas party.

Voters are casting their ballots in El Salvador on Sunday, as President Nayib Bukele’s Nuevas Ideas party is expected to make major gains in the legislative and local elections.

Long queues of voters wearing face masks due to the COVID-19 pandemic stretched outside of voting centres ahead of polls opening at 7am local time (13:00 GMT).

Salvadorans are choosing 84 legislators to represent them in the national assembly for the next three years, as well as 262 municipal councils.

Opinion polls released ahead of the vote showed Bukele’s party with around 70 percent support – and a strong chance of securing more than half of the mayoral positions and enough seats to hold at least a simple majority in Congress.

Bukele, who took office in 2019, came to power on a promise to root out corruption and offer an alternative to El Salvador’s main political parties, left-wing FMLN and right-wing ARENA.

ARENA currently holds 37 of the 84 seats in Congress and controls 138 of the 262 municipal councils, while FMLN holds 23 congressional seats and 64 municipal councils.

Tens of thousands of police, soldiers and international observers have been deployed to oversee the vote.

“We hope to have a peaceful election day, a truly civic celebration crowned by massive participation of the electorate,” Dora Martinez, president of the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) told national TV.

Earlier this month, the TSE called for international observers to be sent early after two FMLN activists were killed and five others were injured in a shooting in the capital, San Salvador.

Observers said it was one of the worst political attacks in decades.

Tensions have been rising ahead of the legislative polls, as civil society groups raised concerns that a strong showing for Bukele’s party could see him consolidate power.

Human rights advocates have said the president has shown authoritarian tendencies – an accusation that he and his supporters have rebuffed.

People vote during parliamentary and local elections in San Salvador on February 28 [Marvin Recinos/AFP]

With a majority in Congress, Bukele would be able to appoint judges to the Supreme Court and the public prosecutor’s office.

A two-thirds majority would let the Nuevas Ideas party appoint high-level government officials, such as the attorney general and five of the country’s 15 Supreme Court justices.

“I’m going to vote for [Nayib’s party] because he has helped us a lot,” Wendy Henriquez, a 46-year-old street vendor, told Al Jazeera ahead of the vote.

Officials expect preliminary results will be released a few hours after polls close at 5pm (23:00 GMT) on Sunday.



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